OLYMPIA – Amtrak Cascades riders can now look forward to shorter trip times and more reliable schedules between Seattle and Portland following federal approval of WSDOT’s proposal to reroute the passenger train service to a less congested route.
After reviewing WSDOT’s Environmental Assessment and comments from local municipalities and the public, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) determined the $89 million Point Defiance Bypass project would not result in significant adverse impacts to the environment.
With this approval, WSDOT’s project team will advance design work to reroute passenger trains from the BNSF Railway main line near Point Defiance to an existing, and less congested, rail line that travels through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. WSDOT expects construction to begin in 2015 and open the new route to service in 2017.
“This is an important step in alleviating rail congestion and reducing travel time for passenger rail service between Seattle and Portland,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “Incremental successes, like this one, are critical to helping states and regions achieve their long-term vision for higher performing passenger rail service.”
The current route used by Amtrak Cascades is congested, carrying nearly 50 freight and passenger trains a day. The proposed inland route is shorter and will allow Amtrak Cascades to reduce travel times by avoiding rail congestion and delays. The bypass route also allows Amtrak Cascades to expand the service and add two more daily trains between Seattle and Portland.
The new bypass route is located along an existing 18-mile lightly used freight corridor owned by Sound Transit. Part of the bypass route is the same route that Sound Transit uses for Sounder commuter rail to Lakewood.
“This is a major milestone for not only this project but for customers and our entire passenger rail program,” said Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “This new section of track allows us to add more daily round trips between Seattle and Portland, making rail travel reliable and more convenient for our passengers.”
WSDOT evaluated two possible scenarios in the Environmental Assessment. The first scenario included rerouting passenger trains with improvements to the Point Defiance Bypass route. The second scenario was a no-build alternative and included only routine maintenance and repairs on the Point Defiance route owned by BNSF Railway.
Throughout the three-year process, WSDOT conducted extensive outreach within communities along the route, hosting open houses, briefing elected officials and attending community meetings and special events to gather feedback and listen to concerns. These comments were included in final documentation provided to FRA.
Washington state has received nearly $800 million in federal rail grants, part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act high-speed-rail program administered by the FRA. The Point Defiance Bypass project is one of nearly 20 rail-improvement projects that will generate hundreds of jobs and improve Amtrak Cascades service between Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C.
For more information about the Point Defiance Bypass project, visit the project website. For more information about Amtrak Cascades service, visit http://www.amtrakcascades.com/.